In a battle of two longtime rivals, both trying to erase the built-up frustration of uncharacteristically difficult seasons, La Costa Canyon rebounded from a trying first half to overcome host Torrey Pines, 21-13, in the Friday, Nov. 1 annual Surf Bowl match-up.
The triumph lifted La Costa Canyon to .500 (5-5) on the season and earned Coach Sean Sovacool’s squad a No. 6 seed in the upcoming CIF Division I Playoffs. They will face No. 11 Granite Hills (5-5) at home in the Friday, Nov. 8 post-season opener. Meanwhile, Torrey Pines dropped to 4-6 but will also be in the CIF D-I field as the 10th seed, a year after reaching the Open Division championship game. They will kick off with a road contest Friday, Nov. 8. at No. 7 Rancho Bernardo (7-3).
Friday’s result was a CIF confidence-builder for the winners. “It was a heck of a job by our guys, such resolve,” said Sovacool, whose club’s record is not indicative of the way it’s performed considering its rugged schedule and critical injuries. “We’re a great football team when we can string it together, offensively and defensively. We’re four plays away from being 9-1.”
Friday’s encounter was a classic, grind it out defensive struggle that didn’t start out in promising fashion for La Costa Canyon.
Putting the ball in the air on the first play from scrimmage and mixing in a few more passes with its standard Wing-T attack, Torrey Pines took the opening kickoff and drove 72 yards. With first and goal from the eight, the Falcons were pushed back by a 10-yard penalty and wound up settling for three points on via a 28-yard field goal by junior Gabe Panikowski. More representative of how the first half would go, Torrey took seven minutes and 16 seconds off the clock.
After getting the ball back, Coach Ron Gladnick’s charges faced a fourth and two at the LCC 13 with 5:19 left before halftime. The Falcons’ sophomore quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi tossed a short pass to junior Marco Notarainni who bulled his way into the end zone, making it 10-0. The Mavericks tried to answer on their subsequent drive but failed to convert a third and three at midfield before heading into the locker room at the break, still trailing by 10.
“They crushed the clock, right from the first series of the game,” summed Sovacool. “They did exactly what they needed to do, a great job of airing it out—taking the air out of us.”
The break worked wonders for the Mavericks who came out of the locker room a different team, dictating the action on both sides of the ball from the outset. Junior Aiden Lippert and senior quarterback Marshall Eucker gashing the Falcons on the ground, Eucker hooking up with open receivers and the defense forcing the play and hitting with renewed fervor.
LCC took the second half kickoff and four minutes into the third quarter Lippert found paydirt, faking inside before scooting five yards around left end. The extra point cut the Torrey Pines lead to three. Just over five minutes later, Eucker, on third down, connected with tight end Sam Bennett for a 12-yard score and just that quickly, the Mavericks went ahead for the first time, 14-10.
“Even though we didn’t score in the first half, we’d shown some flashes of offense, just moving the ball,” said Eucker afterward. “I knew if we could come out and score on the first drive of the second half we were going to be OK.
“We did. We came out strong, we ran up on them, scored quick and got them off their game. We saw they had a little trouble in space and new that if we spread them out we could go after them and they wouldn’t be able to stop us. Then our D came out and did everything it had to do.”
From Sovacool’s perspective the sudden second half outburst had a simple origin. “We got the ball—I mean we had three possessions and 17 plays in the first half,” he said matter-of-factly. “When we started with the ball in the third quarter we had to move the sticks.
“We changed our tempo and changed our personnel. We’re multiple offensively so you don’t know what we’re going to be in. You have to defend the entirety of the field and they couldn’t do it.”
Maybe so, but the Falcons didn’t throw in the towel after being knocked down. Panikowski’s second field goal, this one a 35-yarder early in the fourth quarter, brought the hosts to within a point but LCC showed its own mettle on the very next possession. Facing a fourth and 12 from the TP 34-yd. line, Sovacool went for it and Eucker rifled a 13-yd. out to fellow senior Trevor Gonzales, keeping the drive alive.
“We ran the same play as we did on our earlier touchdown pass and I saw both safeties sitting over the top,” said Eucker. “I knew no one was coming out on Trevor, got it to him right on time and he was open.”
Or, as Sovacool said, “They were playing soft off coverage and it was pitch and catch with two of the best players in the county. They’ve probably run and thrown that route a million times and tonight they did it when it mattered most.”
Moments later, with just under six minutes to go, Eucker plunged into the end zone on the tail end of an eight-yard quarterback keeper, battling for the final few yards to give the Mavericks breathing room.
All that was left was for coordinator Casey Sovacool’s (Sean’s brother) defense, which held Torrey Pines to 248 yards of total offense on the night, to complete the task. Consider it mission accomplished as the ball was returned to Eucker and the offense to run out the clock and send LCC into the playoffs on a high note.
There were plenty of stars in this one for the Mavericks, starting with Eucker who completed 7-of-10 passes for 104 and, maybe more important tactically, used his feet to pick up another 62. Junior Lippert lugged the rock 20 times for 97 yards, doing a lot of his work inside the tackles. Defensively, seniors Nathan McMinn and Hunter Binney combined for eight tackles out of the secondary and a third senior, defensive end Chad Nuschy accounted for four tackles, two assists and threw runners for losses four times.
The sizeable LCC student body in attendance stormed the field after the final gun, joining the players and coaches reveling in the outcome. Even for a Torrey Pines-La Costa Canyon clash, passions ran high. Maybe it was the disappointment of being on the wrong end of so many hard-fought struggles across the previous weeks or maybe it was the fact that the Mavericks had lost the last two editions of this rivalry by a combined margin of 78-0.
“This game was huge,” smiled Eucker. “We were always right there early in the season, just couldn’t finish it out. Knowing that we really lit the spark on the offense against Torrey Pines, our rivals, my senior year, our last game of the regular season—it doesn’t get much better.”
Nuschy was equally enthusiastic. “This feels great, it’s like the Super Bowl,” he said. “We weren’t doing our job in the first half, maybe we were nervous or letting the hype get to us.
“We realized we had to calm down, do our job and win the game. We made some corrections, got better, came out and won it in the second half. Right now, I think we’re the best team in CIF D-I and I think we can win it.”
Sovacool must have liked that last notion since he’s one of the most positive, high energy coaches in the section but also someone who stays laser-focused on the bigger picture. Both sides of that personality were in evidence Friday.
During Torrey Pines’ final offensive thrust, when it looked like the Falcons might have a chance to make things a little nerve-wracking for the Mavericks, Sovacool sprinted the short distance to the LCC student section quickly reminded them that their role had been crucial in bring his/their team back, that LCC was still in command and implored them to provide the support necessary to get the Mavs over the final hurdle.
After the game, the buttoned down side took center stage. “That was a very well-coached team we played tonight with tough kids,” he said, complimenting Torrey Pines. “But tonight, our kids were tougher.
“This is a good time, but it’s not what we come to do. Winning league, beating our rivals and winning CIF—those are our goals. This feels good but we’re not done—we’re going to win CIF.”